The trailer for this week’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back begins in the aftermath of what looks like a particularly bloody brawl. Reacher, played once again by Tom Cruise, sits handcuffed in a diner, spouting tough-guy dialogue at the (presumably corrupt) cops who’ve come to arrest him. But don’t pay attention to his words. Pay attention to his controversial face. If you’re a longtime Cruise fan, you may notice something familiar: In the scene, the actor sports a slim horizontal cut on the bridge of his nose, as well as a bloody patch on his right cheekbone—the same exact facial injuries Cruise’s characters have been sporting for years.
The trend was first pointed out to me by my friend Blake, and it’s one of those things that, once you see it, you notice it everywhere. Here’s Cruise and his facial cuts menacing Jamie Foxx on the subway in Collateral:
Here’s Cruise and his facial cuts giving their best puppy-dog eyes in Mission Impossible III:
Here’s Cruise and his facial cuts strapping in for a sci-fi adventure in Oblivion:
And here’s Cruise and his facial cuts rescuing Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation:
(A similar facial-cut pattern also shows up about two hours into Mission Impossible 2, but there’s no good still.)
Clearly, this is more than mere coincidence. Something is going on, but what is it? Here are the only explanations that I’ve been able to come up with:
Stars depend on their faces for their livelihood, and so it’s only natural that some of them are extremely obsessive about the way their faces are shown. Ariana Grande only wants to be shot from the side of her face that she considers more attractive. Did Cruise similarly discover that his face looked extremely fetching with one particular set of wounds and demand that makeup artists give him the same set for every film thereafter?
He was dipped in the River Styx as a child.
In Greek mythology, the legendary hero Achilles got a ceremonial dunk in the River Styx after his birth, which left him essentially arrow-proof—except for his heel, which is where his mother held onto him. Did Cruise receive a similar boon from his own mom, who perhaps dipped him in feet first, making his nose and cheekbones the only part of his body that could show harm? It’s unlikely, yes, but how else do you explain Cruise’s seemingly magical aging process?
The cuts are actually ancient runes, sending secret messages out into the universe for some dark eldritch purpose.
You never know.
In all likelihood, this is a mystery that will probably never be solved. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything, for in their own special way, these facial cuts disprove the odd notion that great acting is about range. These barely bleeding wounds can only do one thing—give Cruise’s characters an aesthetically pleasing vulnerability—but they do it quite well.